"Don't Follow" is a sad conversation partly sung by guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell and partly sung by vocalist Layne Staley. The split isn't merely an artistic novelty. The parts represent two halves of a parting discussion. Jar of Flies producer Toby Wright opened this window into the song when, in Alice in Chains: The Untold Story by David de Sola, he explained that Cantrell developed the "two-sides-to-the-story type of thing" split-vocal concept.
In the song, Cantrell is trying to break off his relationship with Staley because it's become too painful to try to save him from his self-destruction. It begins with Cantrell singing the opening verse:
Hey, I ain't never coming home
Hey, I'll just wander my own road
Hey, hey, I can't meet you here tomorrow, no
Say goodbye, don't follow
Misery so hollow
Hey you, you're livin' life full throttle
Hey you, pass me down that bottle, yeah
Hey, hey you, you can't shake me 'round now
I get so lost and don't know how, yeah
And it hurts to care, I'm going down
Staley then comes in, speaking as the wayward other half.
Ooh, forgot my woman, lost my friends
Things I'd done and where I've been
Sleep in sweat, the mirror's cold
See my face, it's growin' old
Scared to death, no reason why
Do whatever to get me by
Think about the things I said
Read the page, it's cold and dead
And take me home
Yeah, take me home, oh oh
Take me home
Take me home, yeah
Take me home
The sad, closing response that meets Staley's desperate request is poignant in its brevity: "Say goodbye, don't follow."
The story works as a universal tale of people growing apart, but it rings too true to the actual Alice in Chains situation to believe it was anything but biographical. At the time they recorded the song for their third EP, Jar of Flies, Staley was deeply mired in heroin addiction. Problems started to arise with the previous recording, Dirt, but now they were coming to a head. Staley entered rehab just after they completed the EP, but it didn't take. He quickly relapsed while rehearsing for a tour with Danzig, Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies, and Fight. AIC had to drop out and were replaced by Candlebox. His final performance with the band came in 1996 after a rocky couple of years. He died from a speedball overdose in 2002.
Cantrell was the driving force behind AIC. Disciplined, focused, and ambitious, he led the band to fame. He and Staley were close friends, but Cantrell also had a business to run and decisions to make.
The biographical interpretation also makes sense knowing that AIC from their inception determined to make emotionally raw music that drew directly from their lived experiences. It was their philosophy that only honest, personal songs could be performed with real conviction.